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Current Research

Research in our lab focuses on hindlimb musculoskeletal functional morphology. We address questions related to function, evolution, and development of the hindlimb musculoskeletal system in primates and other mammals. 

Galago calcaneus cross sectional properties

Cortical bone adaptations to leaping

This NSF-funded project (NSF BCS 1944571) seeks to 1) identify form-function relationships between leaping/hopping prevalence and hindlimb cortical bone properties in extant primates, rodents, and marsupials, 2) determine whether hindlimb bone strength increased convergently in these species, and 3) analyze the evolution of, and adaptive shifts in, these measures of hindlimb bone strength across both living and extinct primate clades. Our results will have the potential to determine morphological convergence by linking locomotor behavior with bone strength properties of elongated hindlimb bones in leaping primates using a comparative sample of hopping rodents and marsupials. Until now, the lack of this knowledge has limited efforts to fully understand primate leaping, which is a behavior that was integral to the early evolution of the clade. Although it is generally accepted that the earliest primates were dependent on some form of leaping locomotion, how and when the primate skeleton adapted to selection for leaping behavior beyond external morphologies such as bone length is unknown. As a means for further augmenting our understanding of the evolution of primate leaping, this project uses phylogenetic comparative methods to evaluate macroevolutionary patterns, adaptive shifts, and convergent evolution of leaping behaviors in a sample of extant and fossil Eocene primates.

Pelvis locomotor adaptation and evolution in primates

We have various projects centered on primate pelvis locomotor adaptation and evolution. The pelvis is a complex, three-dimensional structure with biological roles in locomotion, posture, and parturition. As a result, its relationships with body size, locomotor requirements, obstetric requirements, and phylogeny are not well understood. We address questions such as: How does the pelvis resist the loads that occur during locomotion? How is the pelvis adapted to the ways that primates move? What are the effects of body size on primate pelvic shape?

Primate pelvis 3D geometric morphometrics: principal component analysis
Selected Publications:
Fig 2 Lewton et al 2020 PeerJ

Patterns of pelvic functional variation in carnivorans

There is wide variation in carnivoran locomotor and postural behaviors and aspects of postcranial morphology. We test the hypothesis that carnivoran species that use similar locomotor behaviors exhibit shared morphologies of 3D pelvis shape. Our research suggests that phylogeny and allometry have strong influences on pelvis shape, but locomotor function does not leave clear signals. 

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